By Ekele Amana
The succession contest for the paramount Igala royal stool must rank as one of the least rancorous and acrimonious globally. For a stool so revered that its occupant is literally idolized by the subjects spread across several states in Nigeria from the North Central, to the North East, South East and South South Geo-Political Zones observers have always found it cofounding that succession to the stool in its 700 years’ history had been seamless with the near absence of conflict except in 1956 when the Colonial Government of the Northern Province in Kaduna arbitrarily interfered in the process.
That year, at the death of King Ameh Oboni(who reigned 1946-1956) perhaps one of the most popular Attah Igalas of all time, the Northern Colonial government furtively turbaned a Zaria based Prince Aliyu Obaje from a royal ruling house not yet in line for ascension to the stool and brought him to the Attah’sPalace in Idah to forcefully occupy the throne even when the rightful prince has been selected, initiated and crowned by the kingmakers after going through all other rites of coronation. The legitimate heritor, Late Prince Opaluwa Oguche and indeed almost the entire kingdom was bewildered by the injustice and wholesome desecration of the process which would have been inconceivable before then.
Prince Oguche went to court and the litigation escalated to the Supreme Court before he was prevailed upon by stakeholders of the kingdom to withdraw the suit in 1972. It was the first time the stool of the Attah would be subjected to a legal tussle.
|he Kingdom would have perhaps witnessed another acrimonious process when Aliyu Obaje passed away in 2012 and was succeeded by now Late King Idakwo Ameh Oboni II but for the deft handling of the contentious issues by the then Governor of the State Captain Idris Wada
There are Four Ruling Houses entitled to produce candidates to occupy the Attah Stool namely the Aju’Ameachor, Aju’Akogu, Aju’Aku and Aju’Ocholi in that order of rotation. When an Attah produced by a ruling house ends his tenure, he is succeeded by the eldest qualified son of the last Attah from the ruling house in the rotation order of precedence. The 1956interference first distorted the order of rotation as the turns of Aju’Ameachor and Aju’Akogu were bypassed and usurped to impose Aliyu Obaje who spent 56 years on the throne. At the time of his demise another cardinal qualification compulsory for a candidate to the throne which was that such a candidate must be the direct son of a previous Attah had been lost by the two houses that suffered the injustice of the government imposition as no direct children from the last Attahs from both families namely King Oguche Akpa (reigned1911-1919) and King AtaboIjomi (1919-1926) were alive anymore.
Thus at the death of Aliyu Obaje, King Idakwo Oboni II(reigned 2013 -2020) whose father King Ameh Oboni was the predecessor of Obaje was automatically favored for the throne as a result of the two major distortions. Firstly, the Aju’OcholiRuling House where he comes from is next to Aju’Aku in the rotational order of precedence and secondly he was also the eldest son of a previous Attah in the line of rotation.
This development meant the Aju’Ameachor and Aju’Akoguwere going into extinction as ruling houses as a result of the injustice visited on them in 1956. The two ruling houses had begun assembling their arsenals to engage in legal challenges when former Governor Wada brokered a truce with the undertaking that the distortions which had now turned out to be debilitating disqualifications to their rights to ascend the throne of their forefathers would be redressed by legislation.
Thus the Kogi State Igala Area Traditional Council (Modification of Native Law and Customs) Order of 2015 was enacted. The law restores the rotation order of precedence with a clear-cut provision that when it comes into force after the death of King Idakwo Oboni the rotation will commence from the Aju’Ameachor Ruling House which is the first in the order of precedence and whose heir directly suffered the injustice of 1956, followed by Aju’Akogu. The fundamental amendment to the custom and tradition of the stool was the waiver provided for grandsons of previous Attahs to ascend the throne when it’s the turn of a ruling house that that can no longer present the direct son of a previous Attah and even a great grandson where there are no more grandsons alive in a ruling house.
But other than these amendments that was encoded to redress the injustice done to the two ruling houses the law equally reinforced the time tested traditions of the succession which has guaranteed a rancor free process for 700 years.
The process in itself is simple and open. At the death of an Attah, the traditional Prime Minister of the kingdom known as the Achadu will declare a vacancy in the stool. The oldest man in the ruling house in line of succession will convene a meeting of the family to choose from among the male sons of the last Attah a nominee to occupy the throne. Preference is to be given to the most senior among the contestants granted he’s of sound mind, had never been convicted of an offence of dishonesty and he’s of good health. The name of the nominee chosen from such a family meeting shall be forwarded to the three other ruling houses for purposes of information and to engender cooperation and a sense of filiality among the ruling houses.
The ruling houses are required by law to jointly forward the name presented to them by the family to the Etemahi (Head of the Kingmakers) and members of the college of kingmakers called the Igala Mela. The Kingmakers are to appoint him the Attah and thereafter forward his name to the Achadu for onward transmission to the state Governor through the State Council of Chiefs for approval.
Thus by the provision of this succession law the duty of deciding who becomes the Attah rests squarely with the family in line of the rotation order. Once a candidate has been nominated, the law is clear that the role of all the other actors in the succession process is to endorse and forward the candidate until he’s appointed by the kingmakers and his appointment is finally approved by the governor.
However, it will appear that so far in the current succession process, the law and the tradition have been observed in total breach by the Etemahi who appears to have concluded that he can create his own rules as he desires in total disregard of the extant provisions of the law. The Etemahi for instance encouraged and accepted applications from a multiplicity of candidates from all the ruling houses. This precipitated an avalanche of applications from all manners of persons whom heshortlisted for interview on December 15, 2020 as if they were looking for paid employment. There after he set up a committee with the mandate of recommending three names for him to choose from. The committee was said to have met severally and made the recommendations which he unilaterally discarded.
However, while he engaged in this brazenly illegalities he totally ignored the legitimate process already commenced by the Aju’Ameachor in its meeting convened by the eldest man in the family on November 19 after the declaration of vacancy in the stool that resulted in the nomination of Prince Samuel Opaluwa Oguche according to provisions of the law. His name was presented to the other ruling houses who said they were already in the process of taking advantage of the applications been received by Etemahi to also contest the stool and therefore declined to discharge the duty required of them by law to accept and forward the name presented by the Aju’Ameachor whose turn it is to produce the Attah.
Right now what would have been a smooth process following the new law and the tradition is degenerating into hostilities which promises to be intractable and combustive therefore exposing the much sacred institution with a history of peaceful transition to ridicule and contempt. Already allegations are flying around that the motivation for encouraging several persons into applying for the throne and inviting them for interview was the cash tokens each aspirant would present. Besides some contestants have already released statements to alleged that the head of the Kingmakers had received a bribe of N20 million to recommend a civil servant in a paramilitary organization who is the least qualified among the major contestants from the Aju’Ameachor Ruling House.
Several observers of the process are unanimous that once an otherwise simple process is deliberately made to be complicated and compounded by the managers of such a process, they could only be doing so for either some pecuniary or noxious interests.Whichever is the case, it is becoming increasingly clear that the effort at picking the Attah this time around is doomed to end in a lurid and bitter controversy never before associated with the stool whose occupants the Igalas love to deify.
Ekele Amana writes from Ofukolo in Idah.